“The PaL system is just fantastic,” says Robert Mitchell, an Ilford resident and PaL partner. ‘My tutor gives up an hour a week for me and he is always there on the phone when I have a question. We’ve even met up a couple of times. My learning sessions with PaL are so immensely helpful and enjoyable. It gives the student the ability to learn without limits - the only restriction is how far he wants to take it.”
These words are typical of those who sign up to learn more about Judaism with the PaL, Phone and Learn programme. Robert, a 35-year-old computer engineer with a traditional United Synagogue background, registered with PaL in January 2008 and three years later, his weekly learning session with tutor Dov Phillips is still going strong. They’ve covered the weekly Torah portion, learnt Chumash with a Rashi commentary, and have now moved on to studying some of the intricacies of Jewish law. Robert is more than satisfied that he has achieved his initial goal of “improving my Hebrew reading skills, and learning more about mitzvah observance and Jewish customs”. Indeed, he has established a solid learning relationship with Dov that can also definitely be classed as a warm friendship.
The PaL programme, which Robert rates so highly, was set up in the UK in 2004 at the behest of popular American Jewish author and lecturer Rabbi Paysach Krohn (of the ‘Maggid’ series fame). Rabbi Krohn had flown to London after the untimely passing of his friend Sammy Homburger, a well-known mover in the field of Jewish education. When asked what the bereaved North West London community could do to honour Sammy’s memory, he suggested starting a Jewish telephone learning programme in the UK, based on the ‘Telepartners’ model that had already seen much success on the other side of the Atlantic.
“Sammy was everybody’s ‘PaL’,” Rabbi Krohn said at the time, “and it would be particularly fitting to his memory to establish an organisation that built relationships based around Jewish learning between people from all spectrums of the Jewish community.”
And indeed, that is exactly what PaL does. The programme is open to anyone Jewish who wishes to explore any aspect of his or her Jewish heritage and improve their Jewish knowledge – be it practical, spiritual or even mystical! PaL ‘partners’ are matched up with a tutor who has experience teaching the particular topics they are interested in delving into; and because the learning all takes place over the phone, it also has the huge benefit of total flexibility. Partners can learn at a time and from a location that fits into their own particular schedule. And best of all, the programme is completely free – PaL even covers the cost of the telephone calls!
“We like to talk about PaL’s ‘www’ option,” explains Programme Coordinator Mrs Judy Silkoff. “You can learn ‘whatever’ you want to, ‘wherever’ and ‘whenever’ you like! We will ensure that your tutor is ‘hand-picked’ to fit your particular personality and learning requirements. And our fantastic team is always available to offer support and advice, every step of the way.”
Indeed, PaL offers both its tutors and partners an impressive range of free resources. Informative packs are sent out before every Jewish holiday, including fascinating articles, overviews of the pertinent Jewish laws and even the occasional festive recipe! PaL also hosts its own ‘Ask the Rabbi’ service, whereby partners and tutors can directly email questions arising from their learning sessions to Rabbi Harvey Belovski of the Golders Green United Synagogue. All this plus monthly email round-ups of learning events in the wider Jewish community, tips on recent Jewish publications and a 10 percent discount on all books purchased for PaL learning at Torah Treasures in North West London.
“We’re very proud of the programme we offer and want to ensure that all Jews who are interested in registering can afford to do so,” emphasises Mrs Silkoff. “All it takes is one simple phone call or email to the PaL office, and within days, if not hours, we will have you matched with your own personal tutor. Robert Mitchell is just one example of the hundreds of people who’ve seen their lives enhanced by PaL - there are people who have been learning under our auspices on a weekly basis since PaL’s inception, over six years ago!”
Now is the time to ‘get connected’ to your Jewish heritage with PaL, Phone and Learn.